Many culinary traditions from around the world incorporate the idea of handheld food. For most Americans, a hamburger or a burrito are common choices that provide a filling meal while remaining portable and easily consumed while multitasking. In the mining towns of southwestern England, there’s a tradition of a handheld food known as a pasty, a comforting, hearty stuffed pastry easily transported underground to be consumed during a meal break in the middle of a day of dangerous, demanding work below the surface of the Earth in Cornwall.
Most of the Cornish mines have long since closed, but the food favored by the miners migrated to the United States via Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is now celebrated in Phoenix at the Cornish Pasty Company (CPC). Since its original location opened in Tempe back in 2005, CPC has expanded to multiple locations throughout Arizona and Nevada. In downtown Phoenix, a CPC restaurant with bike racks outside is found on Monroe Street, just a block south of the Van Buren / Central (westbound) and Van Buren / First Avenue (eastbound) light rail stations.
The Monroe location occupies three floors of a building that seemed nondescript until contractors removed a top layer of stucco to expose vintage brick underneath. Since its opening, CPC has taken over half the block, converting a former Subway sandwich shop and a nearby florist’s store into annexes for food preparation and furniture storage. Unfortunately, those uses have sometimes occured in an unsightly manner that has detracted from the look of the restaurant itself. New window coverings have recently been added to address the problem.
The old walls of the building, coupled with well-worn wooden furniture, give the restaurant a sort of instant patina on all three of its levels. The first floor is defined by a mist-cooled linear patio facing Monroe Street and a small dining room and bar inside. Upstairs is more spacious with a bigger bar, more seating, and a few billiard tables. Downstairs in the basement is a lounge space that is open only during peak weekend hours, often with live music in the evening. Black and white photographs on the wall recall British life and mining culture from decades past.
The core of the CPC menu is a seemingly endless parade of pasties divided into three categories: signature, premium, and vegan and vegetarian. The signature section begins with the traditional oggie full of beef and root vegetables and extends from there to incorporate myriad variations. Pasty fillings include familiar Anglo-American classics such as chicken pot pie and shepherd’s pie, as well as regionally and internationally inspired ones such as Cajun chicken and Cubano, inspired by the quintessential sandwich incorporating two types of pork.
When CPC interprets foods of global origin, the kitchen generally does not dilute flavors, even if many of the influences are filtered through an English or American lens. The lamb vindaloo pasty in the slightly more expensive premium section captures not only the intense heat of this Indian style of curry, but also its essential vinegar flavor. Likewise, the carne adovada premium pasty involves a fiery New Mexican green chili pork stew mediated by some rice and cheddar. All pasties come with dipping sauces, appropriately matched to the fillings, served on the side.
The final section of the pasty menu is devoted to an extensive selection of meastless pasties, about half of which are based on traditionally vegetarian preparations such as eggplant parmigiana or cheese and onion. The other half rely on meat analogs that simulate chicken or ground beef in place of actual animal protein. The pasties usually include so many ingredients that they work as filling meals by themselves. Nevertheless, several traditional sides are available including curried potatoes, tart coleslaw, tangy baked beans, and mushy peas.
Oven chips, optionally augmented with either garlic or jalapeno, can be enjoyed as a shared side or an appetizer while waiting for the pasties to emerge from the oven. The salads at CPC are a good alternative for anyone not interested in a pasty, as improbable as that situation might seem. Many repurpose pasty fillings such as chicken tikka masala or pork sausage as a topping for a large bed of greens. The Mediterranean-influenced bowtie pasta salad uses feta cheese, kalamata olives, and roasted red peppers, some of the ingredients in the Greek pasties.
CPC also has an extensive soup selection, including an English cream of leek, potato, and stilton; a classic tomato with croutons; an original mushroom, walnut, and spinach creation; and a Southwestern-ish combination of red pepper, black bean, rice, chicken and jalapeño. Dessert options include sweet pasties filled with peanut butter and jelly or apples and caramel paired with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. There are also classic non-pasty English desserts like sticky toffee pudding, chocolate bread and butter pudding, and banoffee pie.
True to its English roots, CPC has a strong draft beer selection, along with some wine and cocktails from a full bar. Among the non-alcoholic beverages, standouts are the house-made lemonade, which is topped with an orange slice and infused with a bit of orange flavor, and iced tea in black, green, and herbal varieties. The Cornish Pasty Company has transformed into a small chain over the past decade with locations far from its original Tempe roots. The downtown Phoenix restaurant continues the company’s trend of ongoing success with handheld food.
7 W. Monroe St., Phoenix AZ 85003
Van Buren / Central (westbound) and Van Buren / 1st Avenue (eastbound) stations